CLAUDINE READS IN THE BATH
Miuccia Prada was “mad about obliterating references”, as if
one could be mad for the destruction of her own heritage
the way one should be mad about things like tangerine nail lacquer
and red dress/redhead combinations in film and bags big as a room,
“though I realized how many pieces could become 1920s
with little intervention” (she said as a luscious flood of orange
was borne in by the waiter, all mango and custard bowls).
I tried to imagine becoming the past without some intervening force
launching me bodily backward, like a trip to a warehouse
full of costumes designed for imperious women or just
to trip over the curb and into some other time, but then turned
the page to be captured by the tasteful spread, and lust intervened,
lust for those tiny bowls in blue art deco and especially
for the waiter. Caraway seeds and getting carried away
– what a combination for brunch with the actress who become
the glittering pampered wife of a philandering husband
(played by the waiter) and with the seamstress
who made a pale lily-livered party dress, dripping with absinthe
beading and a huge crepe-de-Chine bow, topped with a fox
like Boudicca’s armor. Drunk on adjectives, I tripped over the pages
until their corners stuck together in the steam from the bath.
The heat immures me: I have no inaugural handbag, no
blond bob set off by pearls like new cranberries, no moment.
You could say, here in the bath I am having my moment,
the heat a fluid armor insulating me from want or need
of clothes of any kind, let alone the way cool women want
to look right now. I need not satchels or sartorial splendor.
For a moment my legs are as long as the models,
stretched across the infinity between me and the cold
mineral-stained tap. I need only water: hot outside
to hold my body safe and naked and immune, to keep desire
in its white cocoon, cold inside to prevent the rush, the swoon.
CLAUDINE PEERS THROUGH THE BLINDS AT HER NEIGHBORS
I want to take up smoking
so over a lawn chair arm I can dangle a foot half tan
like a severed deer hoof and hock,
and hock spit into the weeds from my white and seafoam throne,
I want to take up with a man formed from smoke
and the leather cured at slaughterhouses, then curse him
until people, I don’t care who but people, say I took him
up like smoking. I want him, I don’t care who but him,
to breathe me in and gasp cold enough to drown
the way lying under great art can make you kick
against the walls as if you had been plunged
to a well-bottom to contemplate the watery sky.
This is the life of young animals: to huddle deep at the bottom of the cold
with watering eyes, to be wrapped slick and smoked in
as a just-stuffed sausage, to tap hard red fingers against the rind
of a leather jacket stolen from a barn, to drink strange
green compounds from a ball jar, to lounge on a tarp
the color of Florida on dead grass for the cherry blossoms
but wind up making out instead, to find petals inside his boots,
to lose my favorite boots and find them again, to find myself
but lose track of habits good and bad, to open my mouth
for a gripping story, a raunchy midnight porch
tale complete with dogs, pickups, and cursed men
but instead cough up that first lungful of smoke.
CLAUDINE GOES SAILING WITH A MAN WHO HATES THE HAMPTONS
When he asked me out to Brighton Beach I imagined
Grace Kelly, the gray spray of the Atlantic sharp on the back of my neck;
not the smell of borscht and my striped shorts squicking
against the slick orange seats of the F train.
The beach and boardwalk were abandoned, the sand
carved up by tire tracks that slithered into the distance.
The wind kicked up from the south and knocked the boat
against the pier, and when he welcomed me on with a huge hand
so did the spray, coating my skin with a skin of its own,
the white snake-film of salt. Soon the wind was slipping
its fingers under my too-big sweater and the exertion
of tacking did little to dilute his approval.
From out there, the beach looked almost beautiful,
like a gravel road next to a corn field, or like the kind of beach
where one would go to be alone and cold, become readied
to be welcomed back into the fold – at the very least,
the fold of a warm blanket in the back of a car,
or of tanned arms on the slick deck of a boat. He knelt
behind me, gripped my elbow like a pigeon rifle
and aimed it at the Verrazano-Narrows peeking up like a spire
ready to draw lightning, snuck his hand as a breeze
around the hollow of my back while the city smeared gray.
Do you know how crowded it is, sailing from East Egg,
he said, brushing my ear with a whiff of salt and whiskey.
The highways and crags melted into the clouds
low and stormy as a flock of gulls. He could have laid me back
in the middle of the Atlantic; we could have been on a raft
loaded with exotic cargo, parrot eggs and pigeon blood rubies
rather than egg sandwiches and a bottle of wine
thick and pungent enough to be blood. It was hard to imagine
anyone here, not him shucking his shirt onto the deck,
nor ancient sailors or drug dealers in their bullet-boats.
The wind was welcome against my bare skin,
the deck cold below and him warm above, him
taking up the low pressing sky, his face slowly growing dark
and urgent as a storm, until a brisk fist of wind
punched the sail around and the boom with it
into the back of his head.
He collapsed, heavy and tangled like a wet sail.
What was I to do but wait it out, his storm of darkness
and the one brewing far off in the Hamptons, and throw
his worn red shorts over his slow-rising pelvis,
and down the bottle of wine with the gulls.
CLAUDINE REMEMBERS THAT REPETITION WAS THE FIRST FORM OF PRAYER
On the highest hill, high enough to have a cell tower
I try to imagine an orangery. To shuffle the globs of light
below into faux-orderly rows, lines straight as a root
rather than snaked like the road. Now you try
to imagine me sitting on the hood of a baked car
above houselights like oranges smeared
along a length of lakeshore shorter than your thumb.
You’re reading this poem in bed, your glasses
too far away on the night table. Night puts you
in the road, the lights below illuminating
Our Lady of Communication and her spray-painted
warning signs at the base. As summer fades
and the cultivated rows drift from your mind
but stink with sharp citrus Our Lady sways, a warming sign.
The oranges hang on trees of fog, a cold wet
dog’s nose of a night that settles into the pit
of your liver like the eye of a hurricane.
In Florida, California, Spain this cold means
tape your windows and turn on the news,
the leftover fruit left to tangle with the ground
and go soft as sand, or roll into the highway
squashed and screwed into by confused bees.
Can you beg of a tower like you beg for your phone
call to be answered, the ring turned into hello
like the first gulp of orange juice after sickness? Please
eye storm, storm warm, stomp up north
and scatter our orange fruit from the trees,
pluck the lights from their moorings
plunge front doors into the skunky dark
and light up the lawns, the golf course,
the black lake with your destroyed and glowing fruit.
And tear down the tower. In the highest antenna
of the tallest dish lies in wait the call
I have come up here to deflect. Absolve
CLAUDINE CUTS OUT FASHION PLATES AND SMASHES THEM AGAINST THE WALL
but not before the admiration, the cocktail of lust and jealousy
that pushes so many of us before the mirror with a paw against the small
of our backs, to smoke our eyelids with a blue-dust thumb and twist
in search of the smallest part of ourselves, some patch of our back
unreachable, unseeable and thus the most alluring, the one part
we can imagine is sleek as a cat and dark, so dark, like that cat
turning in circles under the lee of a shady back porch. Cats don’t rest
and neither do the women in ads with their mouths pronouncing
one sexy word forever: peach, cummerbund, denouement.
She spits them to curse those women who first made her
stomp outside in her mom’s heels and open bathrobe.
Her father, distant as the one of hallowed be thy name, would watch
TV from his childhood with the blinds low and the room cold
as if summer never tumbled the world to warmth with tousled hair
as if she weren’t there, watching from the once luxe carpet;
he would lean forward while the captain pantomimed death
or love for his science officer, slump back in his chair with disappointment
when the starship threw its passengers across the deck,
but her eyes were for the women, a collar like the wings of an alien,
a paisley pantsuit, a red uniform that squeezed so tight
the woman inside became beautiful and dangerous as a laser,
a see-through sea-green something over a black something else,
like sea weed, better than what her mom wore when she shouted
down the stairs for her shoes. To be wanted like the one
with the strange black triangle at her waist, she piled her hair
hoping it would twist itself into an elaborate beehive,
begged the clover bees in the yard when she was briefly allowed outside
then stood at the end of the driveway and stared at the stars in anger,
until a black car shouted by and she was herself again, alone
robed in a regrettable cocktail dress in the universe of nonliving things.